Suspended State: Newfoundland Before Canada


218 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55081-144-4
DDC 971.8'02






Reviewed by Olaf Uwe Janzen

Olaf Uwe Janzen is an associate professor of history at Memorial
University, reviews editor of The Northern Mariner, and the editor of
Northern Seas.


In 1933, a Royal Commission under the direction of Lord Amulree
recommended to the British government that self-government in
Newfoundland be suspended and replaced by an appointed system of
commission government. In Suspended State, Gene Long develops a
revisionist interpretation of that process, rejecting the view that the
commission solution had been conceived and imposed upon Newfoundland
from without.

Long traces the notion of commission government back to a suggestion in
1925 by W.F. Coaker, the founder and leader of the Fishermen’s
Protective Union, who was frustrated by the political scandals rocking
Newfoundland at the time. The idea gained momentum when Newfoundland,
already burdened by a massive public debt and export-dependent economy,
was crushed by the Great Depression. Using rarely used documentation
collected by the Amulree Commission, Long argues persuasively that every
effort was made to sound public opinion on possible solutions to the
crisis, and that government by commission was a frequent suggestion.
Ironically, both the privileged classes and the masses favored the
idea—the former viewing it as a desirable alternative to a democratic
process that seemingly gave the illiterate poor too much influence, the
latter because they had by then lost faith in a political process that
seemed to be controlled by a self-interested commercial elite. Long
skims over the 15 years of commission government itself, but devotes a
lengthy chapter to the postwar debate that led not to a restoration of
responsible government but to Newfoundland’s admission in 1949 to the
Dominion of Canada.

Unlike some, Long sees no conspiracy in the process that led to
Confederation, but he does stress that most of the national convention
delegates preferred a return to responsible government before they
proceeded to the Confederation question. That it did not happen this way
is attributed by Long to the better organizational skills of J.R.
Smallwood and the pro-Confederation forces. All in all, Long presents a
thoughtful and well-presented case, one that will surely become
essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the tortured
political history of 20th-century Newfoundland.


Long, Gene., “Suspended State: Newfoundland Before Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,